Posts tagged “paper”

Zettelkasten Method in Robert Pirsig's Lila

Ever wanted to get a feeling for a paper-based Zettelkasten? Here’s a quote or two of Robert Pirsig’s novel Lila, discovered thanks to Eurobubba:

Because he didn’t pre-judge the fittingness of new ideas or try to put them in order but just let them flow in, these ideas sometimes came in so fat he couldn’t write them down quickly enough. The subject matter, a whole metaphysics, was so enormous the flow had turned into an avalanche.


Before long he noticed certain categories emerging. The earlier slips began to merge about a common topic and later slips about a different topic.

I like how Pirsig calls new notes not yet put into place “unassimilated”, too:

The first was UNASSIMILATED. This contained new ideas that interrupted what he was doing. They came in on the spur of the moment while he was organizing the other slips or sailing or working on the boat or doing something else that didn’t want to be disturbed. Normally your mind says to these ideas, “Go away, I’m busy,” but that attitude is deadly to Quality. The UNASSIMILATED pile helped solve the problem. He just stuck the slips there on hold until he had the time and desire to get to them.

Haven’t read the whole novel, yet, but it’s already on its way.

The novel’s main character does not use IDs, neither does he keep the notes into a particular order. It’s a playful approach where re-ordering is part of the thought process. Scholars from a few hundred years ago have worked in a similar way: re-order until satisfied, then hand off to publisher for printing.

But we won’t repear these mistaked ourselved, will we? Links are essential to form a web of notes. And keeping notes around for a lifetime will only make your future projects better.

Doug Toft claims it’s Pirsig’s own method, by the way.

Dominique Renauld on Fond Memories of Working on Paper

Dominique Renauld remembers when he was a student and worked exclusively with paper notes. He was fond of Roland Barthes1 and grew even fonder of Arno Schmidt – both avid Zettelkasten users.

Nowadays, Dominique uses Tinderbox for anything. Check out the slides and video of his post to see what working with Tinderbox can look like.

We can learn to be playful with our items of knowledge. We only have to think about what we would do if the knowledge was organized on paper. Tinderbox is a great application to work visually, although I haven’t tested it seriously, yet. If your app doesn’t support any visualization, simply start to draw diagrams. With a playful attitude, you could re-phrase existing notes, read and think about them, then write down your thoughts again.

It doesn’t suffice to feed new stuff your Zettelkasten. You have to attend to its needs, too. The result will be stronger cross-connections.

  1. When Barthes lost his mother, he took notes about the process of his grief. The collected fragments were published as a book. I always rejoice when an author uses “Zettelkasten” colloquially, which isn’t too uncommon in German; and then I wonder why no one at university takes this method seriously. (The German source says: “Tatsächlich könnte man das Buch viel eher als einen geordneten Zettelkasten oder eine pedantisch geführte Materialsammlung bezeichnen. Tag für Tag wurde dieses Archiv der Trauer um neue Notizen erweitert, deren Kürze und Komposition oftmals an die von Barthes geliebten japanischen Haikus erinnert.”)